The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus

My wife likes to say I change mobile phones as often as I change my clothes. I then remind her that she knew what she was buying into when we got married, and the return policy has elapsed.

While my geek eyes have wandered in the past*, my main crush has been the iPhone. Starting with the iPhone 3G, I’ve owned one of every model of iPhone. With the launch of the iPhone7 family, it was time to upgrade. In the end, I chose to upgrade my iPhone 6S to the iPhone 7 Plus. I’ll share my thoughts with you below.

The Most Boring iPhone Ever

Historically Apple released a new design, packed with new functionality, and then updated the internal hardware the following year while keeping the external design the same in their “s” release.

With the iPhone 7 and 7 plus, Apple changed their design strategy. The iPhone 7 made very small refinements to the design of the iPhone 6/6s family, such as adjusted antenna designs. As a result, the iPhone7 and 7Plus have been called the most boring iPhone ever released.

When I visited the Apple Store to see the new phone first hand, I was struck by the fact that I couldn’t visually identify the new phone from the old one. I had to pick the phone up and look at the back, for the new camera bumps, or the bottom to look for the missing headphone port.

Far be it for me to question one of the most successful companies in the world, but this strategy seems questionable. My college aged son, who has been even more faithful to Apple than I, recently asked me about potentially trading his iPhone 7Plus in for a Google Pixel. That should set off warning bells for Tim Cook and crew, while at the same time send shudders down the spine of Apple stockholders.

What’s New

The short answer? Not much.

In addition to the upgraded internals**, the iPhone7 and the iPhone7Plus are now waterproof devices. While I still wouldn’t recommend using your new iPhone for underwater selfies, this does mean one less accident you could have with your device.

In addition to waterproofing, both models have received upgrades to their cameras. The camera on the iPhone 7 is identical in resolution to the iPhone 6 (12 Megapixels), however it has an improved aperture, four LED flash (up from 2), and most importantly Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). These improvements are all geared towards improving performance in low light shooting situations.

The camera upgrade on the larger iPhone 7 Plus is even more interesting and dramatic. The single lens, 12 Megapixel rear camera with OIS has been upgraded to a dual lens camera which creates some very interesting capabilities. The iPhone 7 Plus sports the traditional wide angle lens, as well as a second, 2x telephoto lens, both with 12 Megapixel resolution. The improved flash of the iPhone 7 is also present with the 7 Plus.

The value to the dual lens system, beyond the ability to finally zoom in on a subject optically***, is the ability to add a blurry background to a portrait photo. These types of photos make the subject of the photo stand out, and traditionally are hard to create on a phone. Here’s an example of a photo I took of my niece, with no retouching.

img_0073
Thanks to an abundance of outdoor light, Natalie is in razor sharp focus. When paired with a blurred out background, it makes the subject of the portrait pop off the page. All done with point and click simplicity.

There are some things to be aware of however. The telephoto lens has a wider aperture and does not have OIS, which means that lens will not perform as well in low light shots as it’s wide angle sister. This limitation will dramatically affect Portrait mode in anything less than well lit scenarios. Here’s an example of a photo shot using Portrait mode indoors with what I thought was decent light.

img_0957
See the graininess, and overall lack of focus?

All in all, the camera on the iPhone 7 Plus is a huge step forward, but it does have limitations. While I quickly fell in love with Portrait mode, the excitement has waned. I’ve learned to only use it in perfect conditions. When it works, it’s outstanding…but when it doesn’t, you’re left with broken dreams and missed opportunities. 

Courage

As you’re most likely aware, Apple made the decision to remove the traditional headphone port on the iPhone 7 family of phones. This means you will have three choices for listening to music on your new phone:

  1. Use a pair of Bluetooth wireless headphones
  2. Use your standard headphones with an adapter (included in the box)
  3. Use the Earpods included with the iPhone which now feature a lightning plug

Apple historically leads the industry in disregarding old technology which has seen it’s better days. In the past the decision to retire technology, such as the CD ROM drive, was driven by a desired benefit, such as reducing the thickness of a laptop. The functionality delivered by the retired technology had been replaced by something better, such as cloud storage, which made the trade off appealing to the consumer.

The removal of the headphone port does not accomplish this. While Bluetooth headphones have become more commonplace****, they are still not as ubiquitous and affordable as standard headphones, and are another device to require battery maintenance. The sound quality from Bluetooth headphones is no better than the sound quality in wired headphones, and in some cases it’s worse. Finally, this “courageous” change means you cannot charge your phone while listening to music on wired earbuds, since there is only one lightning port on the phone.

This is a troubling trend, exacerbated on the new line of Macbook laptops, but I’ll expand on that another time. Just know, I miss my headphone port.

The verdict

So would I recommend you upgrade to the iPhone 7 family of phones? The answer is, it depends. If, like me, you are enrolled in an early upgrade program, where the upgrade comes with little to no cost, then go for it. I’ll also assume you are in a courageous mood, and will move to wireless Bluetooth headphones.

If you’re currently using an iPhone 6S or iPhone 6S Plus, and are considering an upgrade to the smaller iPhone 7, I’d advise against it. While the waterproofing and camera improvements are nice, I don’t believe it’s enough to warrant an upgrade. I would wait for the iPhone 7S next year, which is rumored to have a radical new design and a bevy of new functionality (wireless charging perhaps?).

If you are considering an upgrade to the iPhone 7 Plus however, I would recommend it. The dual camera setup can empower even the most casual photographer to create amazing, art like photos with the simplicity of point and click. The waterproofing and stronger internals are benefits, but the upgrade is essentially driven by the camera in my opinion.

Have you upgraded to the iPhone 7 or 7 Plus? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

* Aside from a short dalliance with Motorola, my mistress has always been from Samsung. I’ve found they make the best Android phones on the market, especially in the camera department. That is, until they started blowing up.

** I’m downplaying the internal upgrades, partially because Apple downplays them, and partially because no one really cares about them. That said, Apple did upgrade the amount of RAM in the iPhone 7 Plus to 3GB, which should help the phone perform even better than previous generations.

*** “Just because you can zoom in to a photo digitally, doesn’t mean you should do it.” – “Uncle Ben” Parker, Spiderman. It’s paraphrased, but you get the point. Digital zooms are evil, and leave you with photos that resemble a 1980’s Nintendo game. Don’t use them. Period.

**** The folks at Plantronics are too kind to me. I’m currently using either the Backbeat Pro (over the ear) or the Backbeat Fit (earbud) wireless headsets. They’re great headsets, and will eventually get their own “The Utility Belt” treatment.

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